Yes, Weddings Make Families Do the Wacky

You've known them all your life, so you also know this is the way they are. You were just hoping they would take a hiatus while you're planning your wedding. They won't.
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There's your Mom, critical of every single wedding decision the two of you have made, from the flowers to the invites to the caterer. She's helping pay for some or all of it, so she's insisting that her voice counts just as much as yours does, or more.

Your sister, who, depending on what day it is, hates the bridesmaid dress you picked out, the bridal shower the other bridesmaids are planning, and, well, the other bridesmaids. Or, it's your divorced parents who are using your wedding to stage World War III over how many guests -- and which guests -- they each get to invite. They take every "No" personally, blown up to biblical relationship-destroying proportions. You've known them all your life, so you also know this is the way they are. You were just hoping they would take a hiatus while you're planning your wedding.

They won't.

Here's the thing, and I swear it's true: For the most part, your family wants you to have a wonderful wedding. They just want you to have their idea of a wonderful wedding. They are used to telling you what to do, and they are used to you having to do what they tell you to. After all, for years they've known best, right? And thinking like that is a hard habit to break.

But then, reacting the way you always do can be a hard habit to break, too. It's a choice between "Fight" or "Flight," usually. A heated, uh, discussion, about how unfair they're being and how they should back off, which they counteract with how wrong you are across the board -- your choices, your attitude, your lack of appreciation for everything they are trying to do to help. That never goes well for anyone. Or you let them have their way and end up resenting a wedding that bears absolutely no resemblance to the one you actually wanted. So, in short, you'll end up feeling like a tantrum prone five-year-old or a Death March survivor.


Look, the reality is that the only behavior you're going to be able to change is your own, and it's the best way to get the wedding that you want. Here's the three-step program I tell my couples to follow, because it works:

1. The best defense isn't a good offense; it's a better, more charming defense. First of all, acknowledge that they are trying to help you. Then, affirm like crazy how much you love your decision. Tell them why you love it, and that you are so happy with your choice. You LOVE the dress/flower arrangement/cake stand/hors d'oeurves, and you can't wait to see it at your wedding. And this has the benefit of being the truth. Always lead with the truth. The last thing they should hear you say, as cheerfully as possible is, "This is what I really want." It's going to be nearly impossible to be a wet blanket in the face of that enthusiasm. Example: "Mom, I know that you're worried about what this is going to look like on the table, but I love this centerpiece. I think they did a great job with the color combination, it's tall/short enough for people to see over/through it, these are my favorite flowers and I just love it. I can't wait to see it at my reception. I'm so excited."

Big smile!

2. Do not engage, do not engage, do not engage: You cannot win an argument about taste, style or personal feelings. When your Dad gives you a hard time about your Mom bringing her new boyfriend to the wedding, screw up your courage and tell him, nicely but firmly, that if he has a problem with it then he should talk to her about it directly. And that is all you need to say, and that ought to do it.

3. Change the subject, immediately: Cheerfully tell them what you want, what you want to happen and then talk about something else, preferably non-wedding related. Or leave, leaving works. Get out of the store, end the call, move on to the next thing, ASAP.

Repeat as necessary.

More truth: You know what is rational and what isn't. Don't give into the dark side. Telling you that's it's going to be a horrible wedding because your cake has fondant frosting instead of butter cream is not rational. Shrug and tell them that if they don't like it, they don't have to have any. Refusing to be a bridesmaid because the dress you picked out for your crew is yellow? This is not rational. Call her bluff -- tell her that you really want her in your wedding (and you do, although maybe a little less right now), and you hope she reconsiders. You don't have to be mean, but you need to be clear. The only correct response to the irrational is the non-negotiable. Repeat that to yourself as necessary, too. I'm not, by any stretch of the imagination, telling you that this is going to be easy. It's going to feel unfamiliar and weird in the beginning, with a decided lack of perceived justice. But, as I said, it works. And, it has the added benefit of making you feel better about how you're handling the situation, and provide a blueprint for any family challenges you're going to face in the future. Remember: Acknowledge and Affirm. Do Not Engage. Change the Subject and Leave. With a Smile.

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